Mini Review: “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)” [WAD For “Ultimate Doom”]

Well, although I plan to review a game called “Deus Ex: Invisible War” at some point in the future, I realised that it had been a while since I last reviewed any “Doom” WADs. So, not sure what to review, I ended up using the “Random File” feature on the “/idgames archive” until I found a WAD from 1994 called “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)“.

Note: This WAD will only work with “Ultimate Doom” or possibly old copies of the original three-episode version of “Doom”. Since it takes up the E1M1 level slot, it is NOT compatible with “Doom II” or “Final Doom”. However, given the age of the WAD, it is not only compatible with literally any source port [I used “ZDoom”] but also probably the original DOS version of “Doom” too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “HighWire”:

“HighWire” consists of a single short level. Although this vintage level doesn’t feature any new textures, weapons, monsters or music, the level has a couple of interesting features that help to prevent it from becoming monotonous or boring.

The main gameplay innovation in this level is that, for the most part, the only weapon available to you is the rocket launcher. Not only that, large portions of the level take place on narrow catwalks above pits of radioactive sludge.

Yes, it’s a 90s level for a 90s FPS game, so expect some inventiveness and creativity 🙂

Although this might sound like a cheap trick, it actually makes the level surprisingly enjoyable. Since you also still have a pistol (with fifty bullets, plus the ten in the backpack at the beginning of the level), this makes some parts of the level a little bit more forgiving – especially given that you often have barely any room to run away from monsters if they get too close. But, the limited ammo supply for the pistol also helps to prevent players from relying on it too often. However, this is a level which requires perseverance and strategy in order to beat.

Basically, when you enter an area, you have to start firing rockets almost immediately. Not only that, you also have to work out which monsters you need to shoot first, lest any get too close to you. This allows a short level with a relatively low number of weak to medium strength monsters (eg: imps, lost souls and cacodemons) to include the kind of challenging, strategy-based gameplay that is only usually found in modern “slaughtermap” levels (that contain hundreds or thousands of more powerful monsters). The strict rationing and relative scarcity of health pickups also helps in this regard too.

This is perhaps the first time in the history of “Doom” that a small number of lost souls on the other side of a room is actually a serious challenge to the player!

As for the level design, it’s surprisingly good. Even though this tiny level is basically a progression through about 4-5 rooms of varying sizes, there are a few clever tricks that help to prevent the level design from appearing too linear.

For example, after beating the first series of catwalks, you enter a room with a narrow path surrounded by lava. This helps to provide a little bit of variety to the room design. But, after you’ve fought all of the monsters in this room and pressed the switch, you actually have to go back across the previous room (via a different path) to get to the next room.

Aside from the very beginning and very end of the level, this is the only room without platforms. Yet, the path-based design helps to keep the room thematically consistent, whilst also providing some variety for the player.

Likewise, the next room (a large area with catwalks) is also fairly innovative for the simple reason that you have to fight two “waves” of monsters.

First of all, you have to defeat several lost souls with a rocket launcher. Then ,after you’ve pressed a button, some raised platforms lower and a number of cacodemons appear. This requires a change in strategy, since you can’t really fight all of them. So, you actually have to fight a couple and work out a way to grab two keys before they swarm you.

As I said, in some ways, this level is similar to a modern-style “slaughtermap” level in terms of strategic gameplay – even though it contains relatively few monsters.

Although the level doesn’t contain any new music, one cool feature is that – because it takes up the E1M1 level slot – it features the classic “E1M1” background music. Given that this is an absolutely epic piece of music which is pretty much symbolic of the classic “Doom” games, it really helps to add some extra drama to the level.

All in all, for a tiny level made in 1994, this is actually surprisingly good! Even with a relatively small number of weaker monsters, the clever level and gameplay design here helps to ensure that even experienced players will find it enjoyably challenging.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get at least four.

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[OLD VERSION] Mini Review: “Swanky Moppets” (Mod/TC For “Ultimate Doom”/ “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2017 Artwork Swanky Moppets Doom mod review sketch

[Note: I write these articles fairly far in advance of publication. And, between writing and posting this review/first impressions article, an updated version of this mod (now called “Gloom Busters”) has apparently been released. So, this review is more of a historical curio, and it is NOT a review of the mod in it’s current state.]

Well, it’s been a while since I reviewed anything “Doom”-related, so I thought that I’d take a quick look at a very unique mod/TC for all of the classic “Doom” games called “Swanky Moppets“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this mod. Likewise, at the time of writing, I’ve only had the chance to play this mod for 2-4 hours at most -so, this is more of a “first impressions” article than anything else.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Swanky Moppets”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160821_121604

The besy way to describe “Swanky Moppets” is that it’s kind of like a cross between those “Purple Ronnie” cartoons that were inexplicably popular during the 1990s, “Chex Quest” and the old “Commander Keen” games. It’s also literally the polar opposite of “Brutal Doom“. But, at the same time, it’s also it’s own unique thing as well. And it’s hilarious! Here’s the story for the game:

The "Don't cark it!" part still makes me laugh :)

The “Don’t cark it!” part still makes me laugh 🙂

Seriously, I can’t overstate how funny this mod is. Yes, most of the humour is on the subtle side – but it’s always great to see a modern “Doom” mod that doesn’t try to be gritty or serious. This is a mod that’s about classic 1990s style fun, humour, personality and innovation. It’s totally and utterly silly in the best sense of the word.

For example, you’ll find a disposable camera (anyone remember those?), which you can use to take selfie photos with. Although this is a fun novelty, after taking about 10-20 photos, you’ll find that you’ve somehow broken the space-time continuum and have frozen time for about 30 seconds or so (possibly more). You’ll also have goth-vision too!

My whole life is a darkroom... one, big, dark room.

My whole life is a darkroom… one, big, dark room.

Plus, one of the other weapons is a badass motorbike with flames painted on it! Yes! Just yes!

Born to be wild!

Born to be wild!

Likewise, all of the well-animated weapons in this mod have a really cartoonish look to them and they’ll often cause large, sparkly explosions when fired. Seriously, this is one of those things that has to be seen to be believed – but the whole screen will often literally be filled with sparkles during firefights:

Yay! Remember when weapons in computer games used to be this joyous and whimsical? Yes, I miss those days too!

Yay! Remember when weapons in computer games used to be this joyous and whimsical? Yes, I miss those days too!

Another cool thing about this mod is the sheer number of weapons on offer – I’ve played it for a couple of hours and I still haven’t seen all of them. Yes, many of them are various types of cartoonish laser guns, but they also often include alternative fire modes too – which is a really cool touch.

However, the visual changes included in this mod are something of a mixed bag. Although the replacements for many of the in-game objects are quirky, funny and interesting – the wall textures can sometimes include clashing colours and/or look slightly too bright.

I guess that this is part of the “look” of the mod, but I’d have preferred it if the mod had stuck to one or two basic colour palettes and had included a balanced mixture of light and dark wall textures in order to give the levels more visual contrast. Still, the visual effects that appear when using certain power-ups make up for this:

Yes, WHY didn't the original "Doom II" look more like this?

Yes, WHY didn’t the original “Doom II” look more like this?

Yes, it might make your eyes bleed if you look at it too long. But, palm trees, sparkles and 1980s colours!!!!!!!!!!! :)

Yes, it might make your eyes bleed if you look at it too long. But, palm trees, sparkles and 1980s colours!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

Plus, if you play “Ultimate Doom” with this mod, then you’ll be treated to a really cool animated screen when you finish each level (in the first episode at least, I haven’t looked at the others with this mod).

Although “Doom II” and “Final Doom” just display a static image at the end of each level, it’s still really cool to see an animated completion screen in “Doom”. Seriously, I don’t think that I’ve seen one of these before!

The enemy design in this mod is, in a word, superb! All of the other characters have a distinctive, cartoonish aesthetic – and you’ll actually feel kind of bad about shooting at the adorable cast of characters and creatures that you’ll encounter.

This mod is wonderfully cartoonish.

This mod is wonderfully cartoonish.

Still, in classic “Commander Keen” fashion – the other characters don’t actually die when you shoot them, they just kind of sit down and grin at you. The creatures, on the other hand, explode into a delightful shower of sparkles.

Awww... Aren't they adorable? Now, let's turn them into sparkles!

Awww… Aren’t they adorable? Now, let’s turn them into sparkles!

As for the music and sound design, it’s surprisingly good. A lot of the music seems to consist of cool remixes of the classic “Doom” music and they can actually sound surprisingly dramatic.

As for the sound design, this mod is filled with precisely the kind of “Commander Keen”-style bleeping and zapping sounds that you would expect.

Yes, this sounds pretty much EXACTLY like you'd expect it to sound.

Yes, this sounds pretty much EXACTLY like you’d expect it to sound.

All in all, this mod is fun, unique and very 1990s in the best possible way. It hearkens back to a time when games were joyously silly and even tried to make the player laugh sometimes. It reminds me of a time when games each had their own unique “personality” and aesthetic.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Mini Review: “Phobos Mission Control” (WAD For “Ultimate Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2017 Artwork Phobos Mission Control WAD review

Well, I hadn’t planned to review another “Doom” WAD so soon after reviewing the excellent “Ancient Aliens” (seriously, check it out!) but, the day before I originally wrote this review, I learnt that John Romero had made another new level for the original “Doom” called “Phobos Mission Control“.

I know that I’m even more late to the party (thanks to the long lead times on many of these articles) than I was with Romero’s other new map, but I couldn’t exactly ignore another new level from one of the people who actually designed the classic “Doom” games.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. It will probably work with most modern source ports, but it will not work with the original DOS/Win 95 version of “Ultimate Doom”. Plus, due to the way this WAD is set up, it’s unlikely to work with “Doom II” or “Final Doom”.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Phobos Mission Control”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160803_130405

“Phobos Mission Control” is a replacement for E1M4 of the original “Doom”. What this means is that, when you start playing the game, you need to type “IDCLEV14” to skip to level four before you can start playing it (and, yes, since I’m a “Doom II” player, it took me a while to remember how the level skip cheat differs in the first game).

From what I’ve read, John Romero decided to make a replacement for level four both because he could do a few new things with modern source ports for the game and because the original level four was originally designed by both Romero and Tom Hall (the maker of “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War” and a host of other awesome retro games, including one called “Anachronox” that I really must get round to playing and reviewing sometime). So, apparently in the interests of completion, Romero remade level four so he could see what the episode would look like if he designed the whole thing.

And, yes, “Phobos Mission Control” is at least slightly more modern in style when compared to the original levels. One of the first things that you will probably notice is that it contains more monsters than you would expect from a classic “Doom” level, as well as a few cool effects – like numbers made out of shadows and light:

 These also tell you which switch does what. Most players are able to work this out for themselves, but it's still a cool touch.

These also tell you which switch does what. Most players are able to work this out for themselves, but it’s still a cool touch.

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. Like in all great FPS games, the level is a non-linear thing that requires exploration – but it also manages to be considerably more streamlined than Romero’s previous new map.

Interestingly, this level also contains a surprisingly interesting maze segment (consisting of lots of lifts and raised platforms) that takes place in a single giant room. Given that this was made with the original “Doom” textures, resources etc.. it’s really impressive, and it’s good to see that Romero hasn’t forgotten his level design skills.

I'm still amazed how much complexity there is in this one room :)

I’m still amazed how much complexity there is in this one room 🙂

Plus, Romero’s trademark jagged patterns make a low-key appearance as crevices in some of the slime pools in this level.

But, although these areas are meant to be instant-death pits, if you happen to be wearing one of the level’s two shielding suits, then you can end up boringly trapped in them with no way out. Given that “Doom” (and possibly even Romero himself) pretty much invented the idea of ‘idiot-proofing’ otherwise inescapable parts of FPS levels, I’d have expected something slightly better here.

Unlike Romero’s “Tech Gone Bad” level, “Phobos Mission Control” is a lot faster, slightly more compact and slightly more thrilling. Seriously, there were only two times that I briefly got stuck on this level – once where it took me three or four minutes to find a switch and once when I underestimated how difficult the final battle would be.

Yes, this part of the level is actually a little bit more challenging than it might look at first glance.

Yes, this part of the level is actually a little bit more challenging than it might look at first glance.

And, yes, the difficulty level in “Phobos Mission Control” is fairly interesting. By modern standards, it’s perhaps mildly challenging at most. The best way to describe the difficulty level is that it’s like an enjoyably challenging modern map – but with low-level monsters instead of mid or high-level monsters.

If you’re new to “Doom” then playing through this WAD (and “Final Doom” too) is probably a good way to practice before playing most modern levels.

The difference is, of course, that in most modern levels, these monsters would be replaced by Barons, Revenants etc...

The difference is, of course, that in most modern levels, these monsters would be replaced by Barons, Revenants etc…

However, if you somehow played this level back in the 1990s – with old-school controls, no jumping etc… then I imagine that the difficulty would be considerably higher. So, if you want a challenge, then it might be worth seeing whether this WAD is compatible with the “Doom Retro” source port.

All in all, “Phobos Mission Control” is probably my favourite of the new Romero levels. It’s short, fast and fun. Not only is it cool to see that Romero has made another “Doom” level, but it’s great to see that he hasn’t forgotten a thing about level design either. This level is classic “Doom”, with a slight hint of the best parts of modern “Doom” level design too.

If I had to go through the formality of giving a map by John Romero a rating out of five, it would get five. Because, well, it’s the 2010s and John Romero is still making “Doom” levels 🙂

Mini Review: “Strange Aeons (V 3.6)” [WAD For “Ultimate Doom”/ “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2016 Artwork Strange Aeons WAD review sketch

Well, although I’m currently over halfway the final episode of this WAD at the time of writing, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a WAD for Ultimate Doom called “Strange Aeons (V 3.6)“.

This WAD may have been updated by the time that this article goes out [Edit: it was already up to version 3.7 a day or so after I originally wrote this article], but I’ll be reviewing version 3.6 because that’s the version I played.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port when playing this WAD and, from what I’ve read, it requires this source port in order to work properly. Although I don’t know if it’s also compatible with “GZDoom” too.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at at “Strange Aeons (V 3.6):

Screenshot_Doom_20151224_110125

Strange Aeons (V 3.6)” is a 36-level total conversion for “Ultimate Doom” featuring new levels, weapons, graphics, power-ups, music and monsters. The thing that first interested me in this WAD was the fact that it was apparently based on the works of H.P.Lovecraft.

The story behind the events of the game is that you play as a man who tries to find his son’s spirit by travelling through several strange Lovecraftian dream worlds. This WAD has much more of a story than many WADs do – with custom story text (and artwork) at the end of each episode.

And, yes, these text screens are written in a very Lovecraftian way.

And, yes, these text screens are written in a very Lovecraftian way.

Although you have to wait until episode four before you can see anything even resembling Cthulhu....

Although you have to wait until episode four before you can see anything even resembling Cthulhu….

Whilst some parts of this WAD certainly have a wonderfully creepy and very Lovecraftian atmosphere to them, this varies somewhat throughout the game. Since this WAD is based on Ultimate Doom, it is split into four episodes – each of which has their own unique setting. This structure comes with all of the usual benefits and flaws inherent in traditional episode-based FPS games.

One cool feature about the episodic structure is that, in the first three episodes, you begin each episode in the main character’s bedroom – before stepping through a portal into the dream world that you’ve chosen to visit.

Yay! Cosmic horror :)

Yay! Cosmic horror 🙂

In my opinion, episodes one and four are probably the most Lovecraftian (episode one takes place on a collection of floating islands and episode four takes place in an icy wasteland). Episode three is also kind of cool and it’s set in an ancient Egypt-themed area of some kind.

But, apart from one really cool level (E2M5), most of episode two is – quite frankly – boring. It’s full of dull “industrial” areas, with only one level set on a giant vehicle (plus an epic boss battle at the very end of the episode) to break up the dreary monotony.

Seriously though, it's worth slogging through the first four levels of episode two to play this one level. The boss battle in level eight is pretty cool too.

Seriously though, it’s worth slogging through the first four levels of episode two to play this one level. The boss battle in level eight is pretty cool too.

In terms of difficulty, this WAD actually has something of a difficulty curve to it. The first episode is ridiculously easy and the game gradually gets more and more challenging as it goes on. Most of the time, the difficulty doesn’t rise above “mildly challenging” (if you’re an experienced “Doom” player), but it was still fun nonetheless.

However, some of the difficulty in this WAD is due to the level design itself, so expect to get stuck searching for a well-hidden switch or key occasionally. Some of these are hidden in extremely fiendish ways – for example, in E4M4, a switch you need to press in order to complete the level is only revealed when you’ve defeated two large monsters that you’ll probaby just run away from when you first see them.

So, there’s both the fun kind of difficulty (eg: during the boss battles etc..) and the occasionally frustrating kind of difficulty here.

The boss battle at the end of the second episode is my favourite so far. Before you encounter the boss, you have to fight quite a few monsters in an arena. It isn't quite a "slaughter map" level, but it vaguely reminded me of one.

The boss battle at the end of the second episode is my favourite so far. Before you encounter the boss, you have to fight quite a few monsters in an arena. It isn’t quite a “slaughter map” level, but it vaguely reminded me of one.

One interesting thing to note is that, although this WAD has jumping disabled by default, the second level of the first episode is seemingly impossible to complete without leaping across a chasm at one point. So, make sure to enable jumping before playing this WAD.

As for the new weapons, I’ve only found three so far and they’re each surprisingly useful. The basic pistol has been replaced with a slightly more futuristic laser pistol. The chaingun has been replaced with an assault rifle that looks and sounds wonderfully dramatic.

In later episodes, the chainsaw is replaced by something called the “Scepter Of Souls” which is like a chainsaw, but it has a slightly longer range – which makes it extremely useful. The basic shotgun now also has slightly better sound effects too.

It's a sceptre... and it's made from skeletons and magic too. Nice!

It’s a sceptre… and it’s made from skeletons and magic too. Nice!

The new monsters in this WAD also help to keep the gameplay fresh and to add a lot to the atmosphere too. Although a few of them have been borrowed from other classic FPS games and/or other Doom WADs (eg: the spiders from “Blood“, the giant worms from Freedoom, the sewer monsters from “Dark Forces“, modified “Hexen”/”Heretic” monsters etc… ), there are at least a couple of monsters here that I haven’t seen before.

Yes, that floating red thing is actually a monster. And a surprisingly powerful one!

Yes, that floating red thing is actually a monster. And a surprisingly powerful one too!

Yay! There are ghosts here too :)

Yay! There are ghosts here too 🙂

Another cool thing about this WAD is that it contains a few new power-ups. One of these is a red orb that gives you unlimited ammo for thirty seconds – and, yes, you will find these after you’ve picked up the BFG 🙂 However, there’s another very similar-looking power-up that doubles the rate of fire for all of your weapons. And, yes, it’s easy to confuse the two power-ups (and waste ammo) if you aren’t careful.

I'm not sure if this was meant to be an "Incredible Hulk" reference or not...

I’m not sure if this was meant to be an “Incredible Hulk” reference or not…

The other new power up is a green “mutant power” orb, this turns you into a tall mutant creature (with a lot of health) who can defeat most monsters by punching them a couple of times. This is really cool, but one annoying side-effect of it is that, when it’s active, you can’t pick up keys, ammo etc…

As for the music, it’s pretty much what you would expect from a H.P.Lovecraft- themed WAD. It’s quiet, creepy and ambient.

All in all, this is a rather cool WAD even if it is let down by annoying level design in some parts. Even so, this WAD certainly tries to be as Lovecraftian as possible and it succeeds about half of the time. It’s fun, occasionally challenging and kind of cool.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about maybe get a four.

Mini Review: “Tech Gone Bad” (WAD For “Ultimate Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Yes, time for a totally unbiased and impartial.. Oh, who am I kidding? This is a WAD by one of the inventors of the FPS genre :)

Yes, time for a totally unbiased and impartial.. Oh, who am I kidding? This is a WAD by one of the inventors of the FPS genre 🙂

Although “Tech Gone Bad” was released in mid-January, I didn’t hear about it until sometime in February for some bizarre reason, and I’m somewhat late to the party when it comes to reviewing it.

I should probably point out what makes this WAD so noteworthy. It was made by none other than John Romero himself!

Yes, the designer of the greatest FPS game ever created (I’m more of a “Doom II” fan, but “Doom II” wouldn’t exist if not for “Doom”) and the possible inventor of the FPS genre itself has created a new level for “Doom”. In 2016. Words cannot describe how cool this is.

This level requires the “ZDoom” source port and a copy of “Ultimate Doom” in order to run (it won’t work on “Doom II” or “Final Doom”). In addition to this, if you want to skip straight to the new level, then just start the first episode of “Ultimate Doom” and then type IDCLEV18 to skip to the level.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Tech Gone Bad”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160216_120733

“Tech Gone Bad” is a replacement for the final level of “Knee-Deep In The Dead” for the original “Doom”. It takes advantage of modern source ports to include more monsters and more complexity than the team at ID Software could produce back in 1993.

This level is a large, sprawling thing that took me about half an hour to complete. Like in all good FPS games, the level is a complex, non-linear thing that will require a fair amount of exploration in order to complete. When I started playing this, I originally thought “It’s for the first ‘Doom’, it’ll be an easy level. I’ll finish it in ten minutes” , only to end up completely and utterly lost about twenty minutes later.

Although the design of this level is fairly complex, it is never unfair and – with careful searching – you can usually work out where you’re supposed to go next. The part where I got lost was near the end of the level where there’s a small (and easily missable) corridor hidden in one corner of what initially appears to be a self-contained room at first glance. So, it’s good to know that John Romero can still challenge players through level design alone over twenty years later.

Yes, I spent at least five minutes searching for THIS!

Yes, I spent at least five minutes searching for THIS!

Visually, the level is pretty spectacular when compared to the original game. Although Romero only uses the default textures, he uses them in a variety of creative and inventive ways. And, given that he was part of the team that created the default textures, it wouldn’t exactly be fair to bemoan the lack of new textures.

 The interesting thing is that you can navigate these parts of the level both with and without jumping. Although jumping isn't disabled by default in this WAD, there's one part of the level (after the blue door) that is designed in a way that implies that you're not supposed to jump.

The interesting thing is that you can navigate these parts of the level both with and without jumping. Although jumping isn’t disabled by default in this WAD, there’s one part of the level (after the blue door) that is designed in a way that implies that you’re not supposed to jump.

And the final boss battle looks suitably epic too :)

And the final boss battle looks suitably epic too 🙂

Likewise, it goes without saying but this level has a very classic “Doom” look to it, in the best possible way. There are vast, sweeping outdoor areas and there are cramped, claustrophobic corridor mazes. This variety in design helps to keep the gameplay interesting.

In terms of the gameplay difficulty, this level was a bit more challenging than I expected. Yes, it isn’t close to being as fiendishly difficult as many modern WADs are but, compared to the original “Doom”, it’s surprisingly challenging. Thanks to modern source ports, there’s no limit on the number of monsters that a level can contain and John Romero makes full use of this here.

Although you shouldn’t expect chaotic “slaughtermap”-style areas here, there is at least one awesome set piece where you find yourself fighting a constantly-spawning horde of monsters in a confined area. This took me totally by surprise and, well, it’s good to see that “Doom” can still do this 🙂

Yes!

Yes!

The only minor criticism I have is of the final battle. Whilst it’s an expert updating of the original E1M8 ending, it still feels a little bit anticlimactic in some ways. Even though the difficulty is increased slightly by groups of low-level monsters that spawn around the two Barons Of Hell, anyone who has ever played “Doom II” (and the many modern WADs for it) probably won’t see two Barons as anything too challenging.

Ok, in the original game, this was challenging. But, thanks to "Doom II" and everything that's come since, it's very easy by comparison.

Ok, in the original game, this was challenging. But, thanks to “Doom II” and everything that’s come since, it’s very easy by comparison.

Personally, I’d have preferred it if two cyberdemons appeared at the end of the level. Still, I can see why Romero kept the two Barons for the sake of historical accuracy.

All in all, this is a new “Doom” level by one of the designers of “Doom” and one of the inventors of the FPS genre itself. If you’re a “Doom” player, then it goes without saying that you should play this level. Hell, if you’re a FPS gamer, you should play this level.

If I had to go through the formality of giving this level a rating out of five, it would get a solid five.

Review: “Beta Labs” (WAD For “Ultimate Doom”/”GZ Doom”)

2015 Artwork Doom beta labs review sketch

Well, I thought that I’d check out another “Doom” WAD for today and I eventually ended up stumbling across a WAD for the original “Doom” (or, rather the “Ultimate Doom” version of the original “Doom”) called “Beta Labs“.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that I used the “GZ Doom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Also, for reasons I’ll explain later, I’ve only played about the first two-thirds of this WAD at the time of writing. So, this review will only reflect my impressions so far.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Beta Labs”:

Yes, it even comes with an authentic anti-leak warning.

Yes, it even comes with an authentic anti-leak warning.

As the title suggests, “Beta Labs” is an episode one replacement for “Ultimate Doom” that is heavily inspired by the pre-release beta version of the original “Doom”.

Having done a small amount of research into this version of “Doom” a while back, there were some quite significant differences between the beta and the final version of “Doom”. So, I was interested to see if this WAD would be a good replica of the beta. But, first, let’s take a look at the gameplay and level design.

For the most part, “Beta Labs” is just an old-school “Doom” WAD. Although there are a few new textures here, it looks a lot like a series of “standard” techbase maps. However, like the original plan for “Doom”, these levels each follow on directly from each other and actually look like a functional military base of some kind:

Thankfully, this kind of "realistic" level design wouldn't return until "Doom 3" in 2004.

Thankfully, this kind of “realistic” level design wouldn’t return until “Doom 3” in 2004.

Plus, like in the first episode of the original “Doom”, most of the monsters in “Beta Labs” are fairly low-level. In fact, in the first six levels of this WAD, I’ve only seen about three cacodemons:

A wild Cacodemon appeared!

A wild Cacodemon appeared!

However, despite this, “Beta Labs” can be a surprisingly challenging WAD. The first level begins by starving you of ammo slightly and throwing a large (by 1993 standards, at least) quantity of monsters at you.

In order to beat the very first level, you’re probably going to have to use tactics and strategy more than you might expect (eg: a good trick is to lurge groups of monsters down a corridor and then stand next to the entrance and melee them as they walk through the door one by one).

Yes, back in the old days, THIS apparently counted as a dangerously large number of monsters. Oh, how times have changed...

Yes, back in the old days, THIS apparently counted as a dangerously large number of monsters. Oh, how times have changed…

Likewise, the levels in this WAD include a lot of cramped corridors and small rooms, which can make the combat a lot more challenging than it would be in most modern-style “Doom” WADs. So, don’t be fooled by the fact that this WAD only really contains low-level monsters.

In addition to this, several of the later levels rely on puzzle-based level design very heavily. Given the fact that many of the areas look fairly similar and it isn’t always immediately obvious what each switch does, expect to get confused and spend a long time wandering around aimlessly.

In fact, after about an hour of aimless wandering, I eventually had to resort to using cheat codes in order to get past one of the later parts of level five. And, after getting stuck on part of level six, I eventually ended up abandoning this WAD out of sheer frustration.

Yes, I could only make it as far as this level before I ended up ragequitting.

Yes, I could only make it as far as this level before I ended up ragequitting.

However, saying this, some of these puzzles are kind of cool though. In one part of level five, you’ll end up being trapped in a small room after finding the red key. In order to get out of this room, you need to press a tiny switch that is located on a pillar in the corner of the room. Luckily, this switch shows up on the map screen – but I imagine that this would have been extremely frustrating if it hadn’t.

As for the graphical changes in “Beta Labs”, there are quite a few here and they really help to make this WAD look a lot more like an earlier version of “Doom”.

One of the first things you will probably notice is that, instead of a pistol, the Doomguy carries the same rifle that the basic “zombie” enemies carry. This makes a lot more sense in the context of the game than the basic pistol does and it also looks a lot cooler too. Seriously, why wasn’t this in the original “Doom”?

Yes, the Doomguy is actually carrying standard UAC military weponry in this WAD.

Yes, the Doomguy is actually carrying standard UAC military weponry in this WAD.

Likewise, instead of your fists, your melee weapon is now a bayonet that is attached to the end of the rifle. I don’t know if this is more powerful than your fists are, but it certainly feels a lot more powerful when you use it.

It kind of looks a bit like a pitchfork too. Which fits in PERFECTLY with the hellish atmosphere of the game.

It kind of looks a bit like a pitchfork too. Which fits in PERFECTLY with the hellish atmosphere of the game.

Apart from some minor changes to the shotgun sprite, the only other major change to the weapons I’ve seen is the fact that the chaingun has been replaced with an assault rifle. This looks a lot cooler than the chaingun does and, again, it makes a lot more sense in the context of the game too.

Likewise, the sprites for the armour and health pickups are slightly different too:

Hmmm...The armour now includes protective boots but you somehow STILL take damage if you walk across pools of slime.

Hmmm…The armour now includes protective boots but you somehow STILL take damage if you walk across pools of slime.

Another major change is the fact that, like in the original plans for “Doom”, “Beta Labs” actually contains bonus items.

These bonus items don’t actually do anything, but you can pick up “skull chests” and “dark sceptres” in this WAD. Even though these items are completely useless, they make quite a few areas of the game look a lot cooler just by sheer virtue of being there.

The dark sceptre is to the left of the pillar and the skull chest is to the right of the pillar.

The dark sceptre is to the left of the pillar and the skull chest is to the right of the pillar.

Finally, there have been a couple of small changes to the monsters too. The fireballs that the imps shoot at you look a lot more pixellated and the “lost soul” monsters look way cooler than they did in the final game. Although these changes are fairly subtle, they’re still really cool.

Woo hoo! Somehow, these monsters are more awesome in the beta than they are in the final game.

Woo hoo! Somehow, these monsters are more awesome in the beta than they are in the final game.

All in all, this is an interesting little WAD. If you want to see what “Doom” could have looked like, then it might be worth taking a look at “Beta Labs”. However, the fiendishly difficult puzzles and the lack of visual variety in the level design mean that this WAD isn’t really as enjoyable as it could have been.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.